The Coast boasts a number of black-owned businesses that have served the community for generations. In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting the legacy of LOCKETT-WILLIAMS MORTUARY.
When George W. Lockett founded his mortuary with wife, Lillian, in 1948, he realized a vision: providing premier mortuary services to the Gulfport area. The couples’ genuine care and concern for the deceased and their bereaved loved ones has defined their legacy for generations. Now one of Mississippi’s oldest and most respected funeral service providers, Lockett-Williams has become a fixture of the community it serves.
“We credit our longevity in business to providing first class, professional and honest services to those in need,” says state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, who is the mortuary’s vice president.
Upon George Lockett’s death, Lillian personally approached the Rev. Theodore and RoseMary Williams about buying the business. The pair were prime candidates to carry on the mortuary’s mission and vision; they had an established reputation on the Coast as teachers, and RoseMary’s family had operated Hayes Family Funeral Home in Hattiesburg, giving her extensive background in the industry.
The couple bought Lockett’s Mortuary in 1984 and renamed it Lockett-Williams Mortuary Inc. A fire destroyed the business in 1994, and Theodore and RoseMary decided to rebuild across the street from the old location on 31st Avenue in Gulfport.
Lockett-Williams has remained a family affair, with Williams-Barnes, the Williams’ daughter, overseeing operations and her sister, Dr. Thea Williams-Black, serving as treasurer. Williams-Barnes, who serves the 119th District in the Mississippi House of Representatives, changed careers and enrolled in mortuary science school to continue her parents’ legacy.
She says word of mouth has been Lockett-Williams’s best means of marketing.
“Families we serve speak highly of the personal and professional way we handle services,” she says.
During the pandemic, that has included an emphasis on safety, she adds — as COVID has disproportionately affected the Black community
Beyond providing refuge in times of grief, Lockett- Williams is invested in the community in numerous ways, Williams-Barnes says. For instance, the business supports little league teams and high school sports organizations, as well as career days, walk-a-thons, health fairs, debutantes, and various other organizations and activities. In July, Williams-Barnes hosted a back-to-school mask giveaway at the mortuary, and she also has teamed up with Chama Gulf Coast to host an annual community turkey giveaway for Thanksgiving.
Overall, she adds, “We are proud to be one of the oldest African American-owned funeral service providers in the state and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”